A little more than three decades ago, Raylene Wright was a 12-year-old girl who loved to tag along with her two older brothers in Independence, Kentucky. Especially her brother, Donald “Donnie” Saylor Jr.
“Growing up, Donnie had those hot wheels, you know?” Raylene told Dateline. “He loved hot wheels and we played with them all the time. We didn’t have a lot of money, so we did with what we had. And we played outside a lot.”
On January 30, 1987, Raylene’s family changed forever.
Her brother Donnie was found shot to death in the early hours of that cold January day, in a field at the Central Kentucky Wildlife Management Area in Madison County. HE was 18 years old.
According to an article published in the Richmond Register on February 2, 1987, Kentucky State Police investigators said a security officer at nearby Eastern Kentucky University discovered Donnie’s body in the field off Muddy Creek Road. He had been shot in the chest and in the head with a small caliber weapon. The weapon was never recovered.
Investigators believe that Donnie was killed somewhere else and then his body was dumped in the wildlife area, about 10 miles south of Richmond, Kentucky.
“Whoever did this -- they shot him somewhere, and then dragged him about 75 feet from the road and dumped him,” Donnie’s sister Raylene told Dateline. “We couldn’t believe it. And I was only 12. It didn’t make any sense. He was just here one day and gone the next.”
Raylene told Dateline that their parents were divorced and both had since remarried. Their father was living in Richmond at the time of Donnie’s murder. Donnie had recently moved into an apartment in Newport, Kentucky, but was visiting his father and stepmother in Richmond that weekend.
Donnie’s father called his ex-wife, Loretta Wilson, on that Saturday in 1987 to give her the news of Donnie’s death. She told Dateline she was devastated.
“He was so lovable, such a sweet kid,” Loretta told Dateline. “It’s just really tough. I just miss him so much.”
It wasn’t the first time their family had faced hard times.
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Donnie was born with a blood disorder and had medical complications with his knees that led to multiple surgeries as a child.
“I’d say he had a tough childhood,” Donnie’s mother Loretta told Dateline. “He couldn’t walk for a long time. And then he needed a boot for his foot. He got better, but it was a painful childhood for him.”
His painful childhood turned into difficult teenage years during which family members said Donnie was constantly getting into trouble.
According to an article published in the Richmond Register, On October 3, 1986, Donnie was arrested for the burglary of a residence on Lexington Road in Richmond.
While Donnie was being held in jail on the burglary charges, someone -- possibly two people -- broke into his mother and stepfather’s home in Independence. Raylene said their stepfather pulled out his gun to defend the family, but accidentally shot his wife, Loretta.
The family told Dateline that Loretta recovered from the incident, but the intruders were never caught.
Donnie had been scheduled to stand trial February 2, 1987 on the burglary charges. He was murdered three days before the trial.
“Our family has been through a lot,” Raylene said. “I know my brother was in trouble a lot. I know he wasn’t perfect. But he didn’t deserve to be murdered.”
Raylene said that just before his murder, Donnie had moved into his own apartment and was working in construction with their stepfather.
“He was doing really well,” Raylene said. “He was getting his life together. He was only 18, you know? He had a lot of years to change his ways. And I think he would have done something really great with his life.”
Raylene and her mother told Dateline they have received multiple tips and heard countless stories over the last 33 years about what may have happened to Donnie, but none of them panned out.
According to the Richmond Register, Donnie’s death occurred two weeks after another murder in Richmond. On January 17, 1987, Monroe Brock, the owner of the Maverick Club, was shot through his bedroom window by a sniper. Family members and investigators both have said they two men knew each other, but it remains unclear if the two murders are connected. Brock’s murder has also not been solved.
Donnie’s family told Dateline they are frustrated and just want justice for his murder.
“It’s not fair. We deserve answers,” Raylene said. “I believe I have the right to ask the person or people who did this to my brother why they killed him.”
Kentucky State Police Investigating Lieutenant Rodney Wren told Dateline the department is “still investigating Donnie’s case and doing whatever we can to find answers for the family. We always follow up on our cold cases,“ he said. “And we haven’t given up.”
Raylene is grown up now and has two children of her own, as well as a grandchild. They are Loretta’s only grandchildren.
“My only grandbabies and great-grandbaby are the ones Raylene gave me,” Loretta said. “My Donnie wasn’t even given a chance to have babies. To be a daddy. That’s what’s heartbreaking.”
Raylene said the journey to find justice for Donnie’s murder is a family effort.
“My daughter, who’s 24 years old, never met Donnie, of course, but even she has vowed to never give up searching for answers,” Raylene said. “It’s all just very personal to me. Even though I was just 12 years old, I’m all my mom had. So many people just let it go. Because it happened so long ago. But not us. We’re never gonna let it go.”